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March 9, 2012 > Cirque du Soleil delivers a fabulous feast for the senses

Cirque du Soleil delivers a fabulous feast for the senses

By Julie Grabowski
Photos By Daniel Desmarais

Take a thrilling journey through the evolution of man with the dynamic artistry of Cirque du Soleil in their Bay Area production of TOTEM. Fourteen acts follow the rise and progression of the human species, stirring the senses, firing the imagination, and revealing the wonder of human abilities.

"Inspired by the foundation narratives of the first peoples, TOTEM explores the birth and evolution of the world, the relentless curiosity of human beings and their constant desire to excel," says show writer and director Robert Lepage. "The word TOTEM suggests that human beings carry in their bodies the full potential of all living species, even the Thunderbird's desire to fly to the top of the TOTEM."

A giant turtle rests on the island stage in a reed-lined marsh, a symbol of the Earth and the origins of life. Clothed in 4,500 mirrors, crystals, and reflective elements, The Crystal Man (Joseph Putignano) represents the life force; his singular, shimmering decent from the heights of the Grand Chapiteau (Big Top) sparking the beginning of life. At his touch, the turtle skin is drawn away to reveal a catch of frogs and fish at play on its skeleton, leaping and spinning around parallel bars in a jubilant display of early life. The wonder and awe continues throughout the evening as attendees are treated to one impressive feat after another.

Strength and control unfold during a fun trip to the beach where two men compete against one another on the high-flying rings, only to be outshone by a woman.

Five ladies atop seven-foot tall unicycles display fantastic synchronized balance and precision, tossing bowls from their feet and catching them on top of their heads.

A group of ambitious businessmen literally scale the heights in the Perches act, ascending, balancing, and whipping around metal perch poles, the tallest of which reaches approximately 33 feet high. It is an exhibition of astounding strength and tremendous body control.

The Fixed Trapeze Duo of Louis-David Simoneau and Rosalie Ducharme is a flirty battle for supremacy, with beautiful tangles and tussles that enchant and wow.

The men of the Russian Bars emerge as glowing planetary explorers and defy gravity as they bounce from narrow, flexible plank-like bars to flip and spin in gymnastic wonder.

And what would a circus be without clowns? Pippo Crotti and Mykhaylo Usov are hilarious in their showcased escapades and difficulties, definite crowd pleasers who work the audience even before the show begins.

The set is a fantastic creation by Carl Fillion; among the reeds a central tilted surface serves as a stage entrance as well as a projection ground that comes to life as a river, ocean, volcanic island, and starry sky. The surface splits with the "Scorpion Bridge," a marvelous component that acts as a totem pole, indian carpet, and prow of a boat. The bridge can rise, descend, extend, retract and curl up like a scorpion's tale.

Intricate, beautiful costumes and haunting, evocative music meld with supremely talented and skilled performers to create a fantastical, captivating experience that one won't soon forget.

Created by Guy Laliberte in 1984 in Quebec, Canada, Cirque du Soleil (Circus of the Sun) has an international reach, its acrobatic artistry spanning five continents. In 2011, Cirque presented 21 different shows around the world. TOTEM had its world premier in Montreal on April 22, 2010, going on to visit Quebec City, Amsterdam, London, and North America. After a 2012 launch at London's Royal Albert Hall, the tour returns to the U.S., beginning in San Jose. The cast is as international as Cirque's travels, comprised of 53 artists from 18 countries, including Belarus, Finland, Australia, Brazil, Japan, Moldova, Spain, the United Kingdom, Italy, and Russia.

"What is it about the circus that so captivates us? It's a discipline in which the performers must always go beyond. We witness the transfiguration of the human being. In the short time they are in the air, or performing acrobatic feats, circus artists become more than men and women - they are demigods, and we are transported into a world of mythology," says Lepage. And TOTEM most certainly delivers that world. It is a tantalizing treat for the senses that evokes open-mouthed wonder and sheer delight, and the singular wish for more.

TOTEM runs through April 15, Tuesday through Sunday with a break Tuesday, March 20 - Sunday, March 25. For more information, to purchase tickets or preview the show, visit

Cirque du Soleil
March 2 - April 15
Tuesday - Thursday, 8 p.m. (March 29 and April 12 at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m.)
Friday and Saturday, 4 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Sunday, 1 p.m. and 5 p.m.
Taylor Street Bridge (Hwy. 87 and Taylor St.), San Jose
Tickets: $58 - $248.50

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